Ski resorts and retailers who sell ski and snowboarding equipment are expecting the recession to pass them by as die-hards stay close to home.
Zach Charat isn’t going to let the recession ruin his ski season.
But like many skiers and snowboarders heading for the mountains this winter, Charat aims to have fun while spending as little as possible.
“Hopefully I won’t have to cut back on any skiing time this year, but I’m definitely going the extra mile to make equipment last longer,” said Charat, a University of Washington sophomore and member of the Husky Ski Team.
Instead of buying new gear as he might have done in previous years, Charat plans to fix his ripped gloves with duct tape. He’ll use epoxy to repair a busted ski binding. He says it will be worth it to be able to afford being on the slopes.
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Local ski areas are banking on the dedication of skiers and snowboarders like Charat to make the 2008-2009 season a success.
For years, places like The Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass have operated on a simple philosophy: If it snows, they will come.
A day in the mountains adds up quickly. Adult lift tickets at any of the major Northwest ski areas typically run between $50 to $60. Travel costs, equipment rental and food can boost a one-day trip to more than $100.
Despite the recession, expectations are not too different this year, said Tiana Enger, a spokeswoman for Crystal Mountain, the state’s largest ski resort. Families with less to spend may make fewer trips to the mountains, but Enger believes most skiers are too passionate to give it up entirely.
“The ski industry has been very resilient to the economic changes over the years,” Enger said. “People still like to do things that get them out and make them feel good. For a lot of families, skiing is still something of a tradition … it’s not something they are willing to sacrifice.”
Meanwhile, ski and snowboard retailers hope that with the snow, people will begin to buy.
Consumers are still lapping up necessities like ski boots, but sales of extras have been soft so far, said Tracy Gibbons, co-owner of Sturtevant’s.
“We see more of people buying what they need, rather than what they want,” she said.
Sturtevant’s, with stores in Bellevue and Puyallup, has dangled a few “carrots” to entice customers to buy early. But Gibbons is wary of cutting prices too much before people have had a chance to get to the mountains.
“History tells us that when the snow gets here, skiers will spend their money even when times are tight,” she said.
John Ethan, owner of Bothell Ski and Bike, said his store has been offering 20 percent off on skis until Stevens Pass opens Thursday, as well as a rewards program that gives customers 12 percent back on every purchase. Even so, sales have not been great.
“I think every ski shop has been slow,” Ethan said. “I would say most of the consumers are trying to find within the ski world a good deal, trying to find last year’s gear that’s been on sale. There’s a lot of that any year but this year maybe more so.”
When Josh Johnson went looking for a Burton snowboard in September, he found one at Sports Authority that had been marked down from $449 to $199. The avid snowboarder was surprised.
“I asked the salesperson specifically as to if the board was not a good one,” he recalled. “He replied that it was a very good board, but that people were being so tight with their money at the time being that they were needing to slash prices to get rid of boards from last year.”
Although season passes and lift-ticket prices have increased slightly, operators expect to see more of avid skiers and boarders who might otherwise have traveled to more expensive resorts.
“What we’re sort of anticipating with the downturn is people are going to be traveling locally,” said Chris Rudolph, spokesman for Stevens Pass, which expects more than 400,000 visitors this season. “As a day-use area, we’re positioned very well to serve those guests.”
Regardless of prices, when it snows, UW’s Charat will go.
“Skiing, for me at least, is a completely inelastic experience,” he said. “It really is a way of life for most of us.”